4 Small Steps for a Simpler, Less Distracted and Less Stressful Online Life

“Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.”
Jim Rohn

Do you often get distracted online?

Do you struggle with getting the most important things done each workday because you get stuck on Twitter or in your inbox?

Are you split between your online life and your real life at the same time as you check your Facebook while trying to have a conversation?

The internet allows us to connect with people all over the world, to learn about just about anything and check out an endless amount of cute cat photos.

But is can also become a huge time- and attention-thief. A source of distraction that add a lot of stress too as you get behind on work or miss out on being fully there with the people around you.

So what can you do about it? Here are 4 steps that help me.

1. Shut off your notifications and make yourself unavailable as much as you can.

To be able to fully focus on your most important tasks:

  • Shut off notifications in your email client and other such programs.
  • Shut down instant messaging programs.

Then do your work with less stress, interruptions and ways to procrastinate.

2. Create a small and time-limited checking ritual at the end of your workday.

A less reactive way to handle email etc. – compared to always checking when you get a notification or being online in your instant messaging clients all the time – is to check and use such things at a certain time during your workday.

I recommend stringing all your checks one after another into one small ritual. And to perhaps do your instant messaging during that time-period too.

By bunching your email processing and social media checking and only setting off for example 20 minutes for email and 5 minutes for Facebook each day you stay focused instead of drifting off and spending too much of your attention and energy on those things.

I do my checking ritual at the end of my workday because then my energy levels are relatively low and I know I have used my peak hours earlier in the day to put dents into the most important things (usually writing and creating posts, newsletters and courses).

If you can’t wait until the end of the day wait for just an hour. You can probably postpone the checking for one hour in the morning without big consequences. Then, if possible, try the following:

After a day or two, try to move the checking further down the day. Maybe to after lunch. Or perhaps even, as I have, to the end of the workday.

The further you can move the checking in your workday, the less of a priority it will feel like as you fill the first hour(s) of your day with what is actually the most important stuff. This will reduce the impulse checking that often becomes worse if you start your day with the email etc.

3. Limit your access to your smart phone and computer.

I shut off my work computer at seven o clock in the evening at the latest – but usually earlier that that – and it stays off until the next morning. By doing all my online work on this computer and by using our other computer for watching a movie for instance I draw a boundary that helps me to decrease stress and to stick to my work schedule for about 95% of the time.

My smart phone can not only become a distraction while I work but also when I am spending quality time with the people in my life.

I have learned to handle this by setting up small obstacles to using the phone. When I sleep it is not in the bedroom with me but in drawer beneath the desk in my workspace. When I work during the day or hang out at home during the evening I keep the phone in the bedroom.

By putting up small obstacles like these I make sure that the phone is not by my side all the time and the procrastination by phone has dropped to about zero. And if someone calls or sends me a text message I will still hear it most of the time.

So if you can, prevent the easy access and what that tends to result in and put the phone somewhere where you can’t see it or where you have to get up and take a whole bunch of steps to get it.

4. Pause when you feel the urge to check and just be still.

I mentioned this last week when I wrote about instant gratification but it is well worth mentioning again because it is such a simple habit and it works quite well.

When you feel the urge to escape by browsing Reddit, by checking your Facebook or by just quickly popping in to see if there are any new emails in your inbox then pause. Sit still on your chair and do nothing.

The urge and impulse will most often not stay for long. So if you just stay still and don’t act on it for a few seconds or a minute or two it will pass.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Henrik: I do not have any social media apps on my Iphone. All though I have an account, I do not even use Facebook. I use Twitter, but I rarely spend time on there. I get on there every once in a while, but I am not into the whole cyber friend thing. I would rather meet people in person, but that is not always posible, yeah I know. I used to get distracted with instant messaging, but I pretty much stopped using all that stuff. If I want to say something then I feel I should call whomever. Lately, I have been productive, but just of lately though. I can be off and on, productive one month, but unproductive the next.

  • Abby

    I’ve been struggling with these online life problems for years; thank you soo very much for the awesome advice!

  • Another method can be to pen down important tasks in a TASK JOURNAL everyday. Ensure most tasks are ticked at the end of the day. The tasks list should include checking the mails / fb notifications in the lean time.

  • Thank you for this article, Henrik. It is simply perfect in time for me to read it now. I have noticed that I interrupt myself all the time to check email, statistics for my blog, check facebook, skype, etc. I usually start the day with this, and don’t end until I go to bed. And these distractions disturb me a lot.
    I have now written a note to myself, telling me to wait until the 5 o’clock in the afternoon. After this I am allowed to check my messages and statistics.
    I feel rather silly doing this, like I am a child, but I believe it will work for me.
    Thanks for sharing, Henrik!

  • kathleenD

    Thanks for the recommendations.

  • Thank you everyone for your kind words and for sharing your own tips for having a simpler online life! :)

  • Hey Henrik,

    First time I come across your blog and just wanted to say I really enjoyed this article! Haha, I SO often find myself oscillating between checking emails, blog, cellphone, facebook, skype etc.


  • Thank you for this. A while back I would set an old fashioned timer and do a 30 minutes online, 30 minutes offline routine. By doing that, I could work on my housework and then on my blogging!

    Great tips! I always struggle with this. I check email, IM’s, Social media and a gazillion other things and it seems never ending!


  • Super tips on here thank you.

    Does the sitting still and doing nothing work for craving other things as well? I imagine it might help with food compulsions and even smoking.

    As far as social media and emails are concerned I check emails twice per day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. That way in the morning I can pick up emails that are sent to me from places like Australia while I am asleep and not keep people waiting for two days for a reply, and in the evening I can pick up and reply to emails from Europe and America.

    Works well for me.

  • Hi Henrik,

    I completely agree with the theme of the post and the issues most people have while online. However, it may not be that easy to deal with this problem (I believe). While this may be a great idea for most, it probably is not so easy for people who have a business to run on the internet or those working in the marketing field.

    Study has shown and from personal experience, I know that it sometime can cost a big deal or two. When you have a social media presence, you must be respond in a timely manner. Shutting off the phone, closing Facebook and Twitter Apps can sometimes cost job opportunities for many as well.

    My conclusion is, it depends on your priorities and the goals you want to accomplish. If you can’t be available to attend to your online commitments, emails, notifications on time, the best solution is to hire a virtual assistant who can do these trivial tasks for you and who can draw your attention to the things that need your attention. This has been a very helpful strategy for most successful people and this also ensures that you do not lose business deals or other opportunities because you were unavailable at the time it showed up.

    Just my two cents….. hope it helps…


  • You’ve been nominated for the sunshine award, an award that recognizes inspiring and super cool blogs! You can check out the details at http://exhilaratedliving.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/yay-i-got-nominated-for-an-award/. Have a good one :)

  • I printed this out and I’m going to follow your suggestions. I waste so much time checking and rechecking email. I’m more conflicted about the time I spend browsing blogs and commenting. In one sense that is time well spent. Like reading this post of yours for example. I like making connections and seeing what other people are writing about. On the other hand, it can start to consume much of my time and other things don’t get done. Moreover, it becomes such an addictive habit. I like your suggestion of pausing when I feel the urge to head to the computer. I’m going to try that. Thanks for the great advice!